To date, I have survived 100% of my worst days . . . and if you’re reading this, you have as well. I think that’s something to celebrate.
Whenever I’m navigating something particularly difficult, I try to think back to seemingly impossible moments I didn’t think I could get through, and how if I weathered that, I can probably get through whatever’s in front of me. It may not be the most direct or the most graceful path, but I’d like to think *almost* everything is figureoutable.
The summer after college, I was in a car accident because someone I knew thought it’d be funny to put animal sedatives, without my knowledge, in my beer. I can still vividly recall how I watched my hands lose sensation as I went 80 on the freeway. How law enforcement told me they didn’t know how I was still breathing. That night was one of the first times I viscerally felt God, a higher power, angels, whatever you want to call it, in action.
I spent a good while after that navigating the onset of PTSD symptoms that would ravish my body for years to come. When I wasn’t trying to shake off full-body night terrors and acute sensitivity to sights and sounds, I was racking up inconclusive colonoscopies and spinal taps that couldn’t explain why I’d been projectile vomiting for months at a time. Things hit a breaking point during my first year of law school when my small intestine shut down during 1L spring finals.
For a long time, I struggled to understand why I didn’t die in that fiery blaze. I didn’t know if, or when, I’d ever get my life back to some semblance of normalcy . . . and until recently all of that pain felt devoid of purpose.
I started 2LWithIt that summer, as I quite literally said “to hell with” everything that was going awry. It was my little corner of the internet where I shared book reviews and cookbook recipe tests as I tried to distract myself from all the hospital waiting rooms, clinical trials, and invasive procedures.
A few weeks into 2L, I made the difficult decision to take medical leave from law school. My health was rapidly declining and I could barely sit through a class without passing out and/or puking everywhere. Even the assistant dean of students told me I wasn’t “cut out” to be a lawyer and that I should consider pursuing a “less demanding” career. I was so fired up to prove her wrong, but I had no idea how the hell I’d make that happen.
A few weeks after I left school, I almost bled to death from a now recalled birth control medication and then I went blind for a few days due to a bad reaction to a nausea prescription. I also unexpectedly had to say goodbye to the puppy I’d adopted to train as my service dog to assist me with returning to law school; she was only nine months old.
They say “when it rains it pours;” at this point, life felt like a non-stop torrential downpour.
I got clearance from my doctors to go back to law school the following year, and the next spring, I was set to graduate and take the bar exam . . . two things I never thought I’d get to do. Cue some nimbus clouds as my five year relationship ended (this one) a few weeks into starting my last semester. That felt like a heartbreak I thought I’d never get over, but some way, somehow, I muddled through, graduated, and passed one of the hardest bar exams in the country on my first try. Fast-forward a couple years, life kinda felt like it was starting to make sense . . . until I found myself navigating another gnarly breakup. This one involved a twice rescheduled and then called off wedding at the beginning of a global pandemic (this one).
At this point, my body had spent the better part of a decade existing in a pretty constant state of fight/flight/freeze. One of the ways I tried to cope with this dysregulation as a means of putting distance between a past that felt extremely overwhelming and a present that felt quite lacking in any kind of enduring hope, was alcohol.
I didn’t feel like I had anything to live for. My body felt like a prison. My heart felt like it’d been busted beyond repair. Even people close to me didn’t know the extent to which I was writhing on the inside. I felt like a perpetual victim of my circumstances and I couldn’t figure out how to escape a life that felt like a house of horrors.
It took me a while to realize that while we cannot change how people treat us, we can take radical responsibility for how we respond . . . and one of the ways I’ve embodied that responsibility has been removing alcohol from my life, for good.
It’s been almost a year since I quit drinking alcohol. For the first five or so months, I felt really grounded in my sobriety. I didn’t go to meetings. I didn’t work any steps. I didn’t even really tell anyone (which, in hindsight, was probably because I didn’t want to disappoint anyone if I didn’t stick to it). I just winged it and it seemed to work just fine. (Again, in hindsight, I would not recommend winging it if you’re trying to kick an addiction . . . but here we are).
A few weeks before I met Butterfly Boy (this one), I had taken a hiatus from drinking. For the first couple of dates, I was cool as a cucumber, but on the third or fourth date, we ended up at a brewery, and not wanting my half-assed sobriety to be a cockblock, I said fuck it and we had a night. After things fizzled, I found myself quite irked that I prioritized short term revelry ahead of everything else.
A few months later I revisited the idea of sobriety. I knew if I was going to give it an honest go, I had to get a bit clearer on my “why.” I knew I had to get comfortable with criticism, or worse, the uncomfortable reality it might repel people from my life. But, at the end of the day, I was making this decision for me, not for someone else’s approval, or lack thereof.
It’s hard to trust when something exits your life that there’s something different or better en route, but every damn time, as soon as I stop trying to hold onto what’s leaving, so much goodness comes rolling in.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a job, a relationship, whatever. When I lost that first dog eight years ago, I grieved her death terribly (one of my first 2LWithIt posts), but the following year I met the most handsome little rescue pup. He went to more law school classes than some of my classmates and I think but for him, I don’t know if I would’ve had the confidence to go back to school at all. Learning to take care of him cracked my heart wide open to go on to adopt two more dogs . . . and while I was scared shitless, especially when I adopted the third one who was literally sicker than a dog . . . it all worked out and I couldn’t imagine my life without them & all their fluff.
I think the same kind of trust could be said for sobriety. There was a point in time where I couldn’t picture a life without alcohol. I didn’t know how I’d navigate networking happy hours, or traveling, or even dating. Well, to my surprise, life has never looked more vibrant and joyful and peaceful since I gave up alcohol (minus a few moments here and there, but no one’s life is good vibes all the time).
It’s really damn humbling to see how much I stood in my own way, and now that I have to work through the gamut of emotions, instead of shoving them down or numbing them out, life just feels a lot lighter and brighter. That’s not to say things don’t still get stormy, but I’m living my life much differently from how I used to even a year ago.
I started with curiosity that my life was better without alcohol than it was when I was drinking. That curiosity turned into 30 days, then 60, and so on . . . and before I knew it, I hit six months.
It was around this time that I went out on a date for the first time since Butterfly boy. The guy was insufferable. At one point, he asked to hold my hand, to which my unhinged ass said, “no thanks, but you can hold your own hand.” Apparently I didn’t lose my sassiness when I got sober . . .
Albert Einstein once said, “I have tried 99 times and have failed, but on the 100th time came success.” Well, this was not that unicorn date and I was so disheartened, I hightailed it straight to a bar as soon as we awkwardly said goodbye. It was just my luck that it was trivia night and I couldn’t find a bartender anywhere, so instead of washing down my self pity with something astringent, I sat my ass down with a water and played trivia.
Between rounds, a friend posted about starting a sobriety meeting of sorts and something in me felt inclined to check it out the following week. I didn’t end up winning anything at trivia, but I didn’t chase my feelings of overwhelming disappointment with anything stronger than water.
The following week, I went to one of those meetings. But for that group of guys, I don’t think I would’ve been able to get through what was right around the corner. I’d like to think it was a little serendipity and a lot of God/angels/whatever you want to call it that night, because but for that damn trivia game, I probably would’ve had a drink or three.
This was the first of several action steps, moments of radical responsibility, if you will, that I took over the next couple months to protect my sobriety. Initially, it felt like a sign of weakness to admit I didn’t have as strong a grasp on my sobriety as I thought I did . . . but I think there’s a reason we all go through things at different times; you never know whose experiences will become your survival guide. The guys I met at that first meeting made me realize I didn’t have to white knuckle sobriety. I could ask for advice. I could hear their stories and see I wasn’t alone in what I was going through.
Whenever I’ve felt shaky and have wanted to reach for a drink this last year, I try to remember why I stopped in the first place: the person I am without it, the people and opportunities I have in my life right now, the unwavering peace I have every single day . . . I wouldn’t have any of it if I’d kept following a path of self-destruction. If we’re being completely honest, I don’t think I’d still be alive, because whenever my life would hit a speed bump, alcohol would serve as this short-term buffer to mute the impact. Long-term, it’d amplify any underlying feelings of depression, hopelessness, and/or anxiety . . . and I’d end up going down a rabbit hole where I struggled to eke out reasons to keep fighting.
I knew I didn’t have a healthy relationship with alcohol, but even with some close calls and near misses over the years, I kept picking it back up like a bad ex . . . until I didn’t. I had to get to a place where I was ready to start taking radical responsibility for my life and the choices I was making irrespective of everything else going on around me.
A couple months after that abominable coffee date, I met someone I knew early on would either be a kickass love story, or one hell of a painful lesson. For a good while, my romantic ass thought it was door number one, but in keeping with the trend of being God’s personal comedian, it was, of course, door number two.
I used to live by the phrase, “if you want to make God laugh, make plans.”
Thus far, I think the start to my 2023 has given him a good giggle.
This guy had all of the qualities I was looking for in a forever kind of partner . . . traits I’d been working to embody myself over the last couple years. In many ways, meeting him felt like a series of answered prayers . . . or so I thought.
Three weeks after we met, I found myself prostrate on a bathroom floor crying uncontrollably. He called me at 3am on a Wednesday morning to tell me that he was in an Uber and needed help; the problem was, he was 1,400 miles away and there wasn’t a lot I could do. I remember telling myself I could support him by staying on the phone, so that’s what I did and would continue to do until he was able to come home.
Over the next week, I spent upwards of four or five hours every single day helping him talk through what happened and figuring out things like: tow yard protocols, police report requests, and rental car liability terms. I was the only person he told about what happened, despite my repeated pleas otherwise. At one point, he gave me his parents’ phone numbers before he went into a police station, just in case; luckily I didn’t have to introduce myself to them under those circumstances, but I can still remember how my heart sat in my throat when he put me on speakerphone in his pocket as he inquired about an accident report.
That week, I started to have PTSD nightmares from the accident I was in after college. Those suckers came back with a roaring vengeance – the night sweats, the waking up crying because I felt my bones being crushed on impact, all of it. For the first time in a long time, I started to seriously struggle with my sobriety, and how, even though the actions of someone else shouldn’t impact my own, I couldn’t tell up from down and I wanted nothing more than to get lost at the bottom of a bottle and I was dancing dangerously close to a relapse myself.
When we met, he was sober too. This was the first time I’d ever been front and center to watching someone I care about relapse, and while my car accident was nothing like his, this was the second time in my life I believe God, angels, whatever you want to call it, made it known that a higher power exists . . . and it scared me shitless at how inordinately fragile sobriety, and life in general, can be.
Just when you think “ah ha, I’ve figured it out,” God will humble your ass in an instant.
Or at least that’s been my experience, time and time again.
Two weeks later, I had emergency appendix surgery a few hours after I met his parents. Again, I found myself in the tailspin of chaos and fear. I don’t know if it was the suture in my hip flexor that made even breathing unbearably painful, or the fact the *dissolvable* stitches didn’t dissolve, so they had to be manually removed with the dullest pair of scissors known to man, but I felt trapped inside of a body that didn’t feel safe or familiar.
This helplessness brought up old feelings from when I was sick in law school. Panic surged through my body as I started to retell myself old beliefs like “my body is worthless and broken” and “I’m never going to get better.” I remember feeling terrified thinking about how a former version of me used to quiet these thoughts of brokenness with copious amounts of alcohol; now I just had to metaphorically sit in my shit.
Two weeks later, we caught COVID (again, humbling as hell as I’d spent the last three years somehow avoiding it entirely), and then shortly after that, he left for an international solo backpacking trip with no specified return date. In the span of one fiscal quarter, I felt like I’d lived through nearly half a dozen bingo-worthy items that felt like tremendous tests of endurance and patience . . . all the while still sober.
Between the physical distance, the time changes, and very different communication styles, things started to feel inordinately challenging. My sobriety started to feel really attenuated, much like it did after that call at 3am and after I had emergency appendix surgery . . . except this time my partner was 5,500 miles away and I had no idea when he would return home.
There were stretches of days I didn’t hear from him at all, and even when I did, he was noticeably distant. While he was off living his best life going out to nightclubs and jetting off to new cities, the toll of the last few months was starting to grip me tightly. The nightmares and physical symptoms reappeared and I noticed myself starting to circle the drain.
On several occasions, I tried to tell him what I was navigating, but it became clear he didn’t have (or want to have) the bandwidth to process (or support) what I was going through.
Whether it was another Butterfly boy situation and this guy wasn’t my forever person, or he was and he was just going through something that I didn’t know about and he couldn’t support me right then and there, I knew I had to take care of myself or I’d end up in a really bad place.
I tried to reframe the chaos and fear I was experiencing as an opportunity to take radical responsibility for my response to the situation. I knew no one was coming to save me and it was up to me to double down on my sobriety. I had to ask for help.
I started to go to meetings almost every day. It was uncomfortable as fuck, but every story I heard, every share I made, helped ground me in the fact that I don’t have to choose sobriety for a lifetime, I just have to make the conscious decision to not drink today. I got back into therapy and found someone who didn’t sugarcoat shit . . . but he also told me how proud he was of me and how I’ve stayed sober, which I know isn’t ground-breaking, but to have someone cheering you on when you don’t feel very worthy of applause can really mean the world.
I also added a smattering of other things to keep my schedule busy so I wasn’t waiting by the phone if/when I heard from Waldo (some oldies like aerial yoga and cold plunge classes, as well as some new things like pottery lessons and travel opportunities).
Something else I did specifically for my sobriety was getting a sponsor. I’d been dragging my feet on this one because my journey hasn’t involved the legal system, or rehab, or anyone on my ass telling me I have to work the steps. These specific tools may not work for everyone, but I’d be damned if I didn’t exhaust every resource before I gave up. And of course, the way I met her was nothing short of kismet in a number of ways; but I felt like a dog with my tail between my legs asking for more help . . . but I’m learning there’s tremendous strength in acknowledging when you’re struggling and asking for help is an act of bravery, not weakness.
While I’d almost successfully navigated an entire year of sobriety on my own with the occasional meeting or inspiration book (“Quit Like a Woman” by Holly Whitaker is a great read), I knew I needed more help to stay afloat or I was going to drown, quickly. Here comes the ass whoopin’ from God, a lesson in love and sobriety:
It took one month of navigating long distance before I hit a breaking point. You know how people say, “listen to your body?” Well, mine was screaming and I thought I could shush it with tranquil meditations and empowering podcasts.
Cue God’s laughter.
A week after he left, I started to experience insomnia for the first time in my life. I also started to have issues with food like I did in law school, and puking heaps of blood and passing out became commonplace. I was fucking terrified at the rate my health was plummeting . . . and of course, I was just starting a new job amidst all of this.
My sobriety barely had a pulse and I knew I was getting dangerously close to losing everything I’d just spent the last year consciously building.
After a particularly harrowing evening, I reached out to my boyfriend the following morning about how much I was struggling. During the five minute phone call, he told me that I was being confrontational and if I didn’t have anything else to say, he had to get back to getting supplies for a hike the following day. That was the last time we spoke.
I struggled to make peace with the fact things were over just as quickly as they’d begun. It was tough to let go of all the potential I thought that connection had . . . but something I’ve learned this year is to accept people for how they are right now; not who they could be in the future, or even who they were in the past.
I know the person I was a year ago would’ve held out that things might’ve gotten better . . . because I’ve done that in past relationships. But I think not mixing my feelings with booze made me realize we just had different priorities, and while he was mine, I wasn’t his.
This week will be one year since I quit alcohol. While I’m pretty excited to celebrate this “birthday” of sorts, it’s kind of bittersweet.
Instead of celebrating it with someone who I thought understood me better than most,
someone I thought I’d be exploring the mountaintops of Peru with later this summer,
someone I thought had potential to be a main character and not another damn lesson,
I’m going to be celebrating on my own.
But that’s okay.
It’s okay because I’m not really on my own.
I’ve got a tremendous community of humans I’ve collected along the way. Some have known me since I was a super nerdy kid growing up. Some have known me since I was the college party girl turned chronically ill law school student with the Scooby Doo service dog.
Some have only known me sober, and for that, I am truly sorry.
Jokes aside, I want to share these lessons in love and sobriety because I think it’s important to hold space for moments when we choose to walk towards the discomfort of uncertainty, rather than remain in the comfort (or maybe it’s a different kind of discomfort) of something that might not be serving us anymore.
A year ago, I chose a guy over my sobriety; this time, I chose my sobriety.
I think that that’s progress, and that’s all we can strive for in life – progress not perfection.
I’d like to think in the future I won’t have to choose one or the other, but now I can say I’ve experienced both, and while they both freaking hurt, I feel a tremendous sense of peace knowing I didn’t abandon myself for the idea of someone else.
It’s wishful thinking to say I would’ve lived so much differently had I quit alcohol sooner, but the reality is I didn’t want it even a year ago . . . you have to want sobriety in order for it to stick . . . but once I did, it was like the 99 failed attempts, except instead of finding true love, I found myself.
Maybe God still has my dream guy on backorder . . .
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned during this season is that staying sober is a daily choice that you have to want for yourself. If you try to plan what life will look like in a week, a month, or a year, that can get overwhelming. Similarly, if you don’t want it for yourself, you can always find a reason to let it go.
I’m grateful I was able to answer that 3am call all those months ago.
I’m grateful his car accident didn’t impact his ability to go on what I’m sure has been/currently is a life-changing adventure.
I’m grateful I met someone who reminded me not all first dates are duds. Even though it wasn’t the love story I’d hoped it would be, I learned so much. I’m still hopeful there’s a love out there for me . . . maybe this was just the dress rehearsal.
More than anything, I’m really freaking grateful I’m still sober and that I’m able to share my journey thus far. I felt called to share these reflections because there might be someone out there who is struggling to put words to what they’re going through like I was. Someone who is curious about what their life might look like without a substance, but they’re scared how they’ll fill what seems like a gaping void . . so maybe it’s better to not even try. But the truth is, until you give it an honest try, you’ll never know what’s on the other side.
While I wasn’t expecting quite the rigamarole to see how much I actually wanted my sobriety, I’m really grateful for all of it. Who would’ve thought some GIFS and coffee by the beach would be the catalyst for so many lessons in love and sobriety?
Even on the days when I truly feel like God’s personal jester (if anyone wants to sub in, I’m ready to retire), I’m trusting it’ll all make sense in time.
Here’s to growing through what we go through.
All my love,